The Last Duel – A Movie Review

On paper, The Last Duel had a lot going for it. Obviously, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and Adam Driver are major draws due to their established talent.

Jodie Comer, if you’re not familiar with her, is brilliant in Killing Eve, and I’m very happy to see her transitioning into major motion pictures.

And, of course, The Last Duel was helmed by the legendary director, Ridley Scott. You know Ridley Scott as the genius behind Alien, Thelma & Louise, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, The Martian, and many, many others.

That being said, as you would expect, The Last Duel looks amazing. You feel like you’ve stepped back in time to medieval France. The architecture, the armor, the clothing, the landscapes, the weaponry, the messiness of the era–it all looks grounded in absolute reality. This isn’t surprising considering that it’s a piece of historical fiction.

Damon, Driver, and Comer nail their roles. Damon is hugely unlikable, Driver is both charming and horrible, and Comer is potently restrained.

But in the end, I found the entire premise of the movie distasteful and the tone uncomfortable. Yes, the movie is based on actual events, yet that alone did not dictate the direction and artistic choices made by the creatives. After all, The Last Duel is not a documentary.

If you’re unfamiliar with the premise, Damon’s character marries Comer’s character in order to amass more land and to produce an heir. His friend, played by Driver, finds himself favored by royalty and continues gaining advantage after advantage, which enrages Damon’s character. Comer’s character eventually accuses Driver’s character of raping her. It is then decreed that Damon’s character will battle Driver’s character in a duel to the death. The winner will supposedly be chosen by God, and that will determine whether an actual rape occurred or not.

The premise is troubling enough as it is, but the execution of the film is where it truly lost me. The film is broken into three components–first from the perspective of Damon’s character, then Driver’s, and then Comer’s. The script seems to want the audience to believe that Comer’s character was in love with Driver’s character and set him up, which ultimately was not the case at all. I found that manipulation alarming. In this day and age, blaming the victim is simply reprehensible. They also chose to depict the rape of Comer’s character three separate times, a little differently each time, which stuck me as gratuitous and unseemly.

I hoped that at some point, there would be a message in this movie. There would be something we could learn about the human condition. There would be something that reinforced the fact that human rights and individual dignity must take precedence no matter when or where a story takes place.

That did not happen. Perhaps the filmmakers intended a deeper meaning. Maybe they wanted to convey a criticism of the horrors women have endured throughout history. However, in my opinion, the film simply seemed to relish in its disturbing plotline.

As I said before, it’s not a documentary. The filmmakers may argue that they simply reconstructed actual events. I would counter by saying that the actors playing Frenchmen in this film did not even use a French accent, so I’m not sure how beholden they were to authenticity. In other words, they made choices, and I disagree with many of those choices.

I do not recommend The Last Duel.

The French Dispatch – A Movie Review

I truly wanted to see The French Dispatch when it was in theaters but simply couldn’t find the opportunity. Fortunately, it found its way to Blu-ray in record time. Thanks to my local library, I was able to watch it the other night.

The French Dispatch is Wes Anderson’s latest film. You know Wes Anderson as the director of Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Darjeeling Limited, Moonrise Kingdom, and The Grand Budapest Hotel.

If you enjoy Wes Anderson’s general style, you’ll love The French Dispatch as well. Although, I have to admit, it is slightly edgier than his normal work. More on that in a moment.

The French Dispatch is about an American man who started a branch of his father’s newspaper in a French town. The film delivers five separate vignettes depicting local stories in the newspaper’s final edition. Why is the newspaper coming to an end? You’ll have to watch the movie to find out.

As usual, Wes Anderson manages to deliver something new with each of his works. The French Dispatch utilizes some fascinating angles, lighting, use of black and white, and even animation. (Yes, you read that correctly.)

Furthermore, in my opinion, The French Dispatch is a touch more adult than previous works. There is quite a bit of full frontal nudity, which is completely related to a particular story within the movie, as well as a bit of violence that I found unusual for him as well. In fact, those five vignettes are thematically linked but fairly unique from one another, which is perhaps why we see some atypical offerings from Anderson. Of course, as you would expect, each story within the movie is all at once whimsical, revealing, thought-provoking, irreverent, and bold.

Anderson brings back his old favorites as well as some new faces for The French Dispatch. You’ll recognize Owen Wilson, Tilda Swinton, Jeffrey Wright, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Adrien Brody, Timothée Chalamet, Tony Revolori, and even Henry Winkler.

I happen to love Anderson’s approach to film. I’m not sure a casual movie-goer would find The French Dispatch all that enticing, but for fans of the filmmaker, it’s a noteworthy addition to his body of work.

Finch – A Movie Review

If you like any combination of dogs, robots, or Tom Hanks, Finch is perfect for you.

Found on Apple TV+, Finch is an Apple Original Film starring Tom Hanks and … well, mostly just Tom Hanks. He’s an engineer who survived a massive solar flare that ultimately wiped out most of civilization. He happened to be at work when it occurred, a robotics firm, and pretty much just stayed there. He mostly wants to survive in order to care for his dog, Goodyear, and has devised many ingenious ways to use robotics to help him scavenge for food, tools, and general supplies. However, St. Louis–his city–is about to undergo a cataclysmic storm that even his bunker won’t survive. Furthermore, the brutality of a depleted ozone has taken its toll on him–he knows he doesn’t have long to live. His goal? Build a caregiver for Goodyear, get Goodyear out of the city, and then leave Goodyear somewhere safe in the caregiver’s capable hands. That caregiver? Jeff.

Jeff is a robot that Finch builds to care for Goodyear, and this is when the movie really starts to shine. Voiced by Caleb Landry Jones, Jeff starts out very childlike and provides much of the film’s levity, but as time goes on, Jeff begins to understand both Finch and Goodyear, as well as the very special bond the two share.

Because Finch essentially only shows one human being–Tom Hanks–it’s very easy to get strong Cast Away vibes. There are parallels, to be sure. However, that’s really where the similarities end. After all, Finch isn’t about a man trying to save himself at all–it’s all about that dog.

The real achievement of Finch, however, is the special effects. Jeff the robot looks completely grounded in each and every scene. Hanks truly appears to be interacting with Jeff at the actual scale of the robot. I haven’t watched any “making of” specials on Finch, so I don’t know where practical effects end and CGI begins, but I never caught myself noticing the special effects as anything other than part of the film’s reality. That’s meant as a sincere compliment.

Finch is a mostly lighthearted film with touches of suspense, violence, and sadness, but overall it’s an exploration of what exactly it means to be “human.” Is it our capacity to care for others that makes us special, and, if so, are blood, bone, and flesh required?

The Matrix Resurrections – A Movie Review

It’s all in the title, folks.

The Matrix Resurrections is about bringing things back to life: characters, storylines, themes, a franchise.

That being said … I liked The Matrix Resurrections.

Bear in mind that I did not conduct a Matrix series re-watch before seeing Resurrections, but I watched the other Matrix movies enough over the years to generally remember the major beats. What I remember most is LOVING The Matrix, finding The Animatrix really cool, hating The Matrix Reloaded, and being okay with The Matrix Revolutions.

The Matrix Resurrections most resembles the original Matrix is that it splits its time pretty evenly between the digital world and the real world, which I appreciated. I also loved the fact that The Matrix Resurrections found itself far more interested in further exploring Neo and Trinity’s relationship than anything else. I won’t go so far as to say that this is a “character driven” movie, but those two were definitely the driving force of the film.

I also enjoyed the fact that, in this film, Trinity is “The One” for Neo, whereas Neo was “The One” to the entire world in The Matrix. Only “The One” could save the world, but what if “The One” needed to be saved by his “The One” in order to do so? It’s a fascinating development appropriate to this day and age. I wouldn’t say Trinity was treated only as a plot device in the previous movies, but she’s certainly given far more importance in The Matrix Resurrections. (Of course, if you know the background of the film’s creators and their evolution over time, a rather complex think-piece could be written exploring “artists and their art.”)

Consequently, Resurrections establishes that a certain “happy ending” occurred thanks to Neo and Trinity’s previous sacrifices, one that I found hopeful. Equilibrium … balance … these seem to be important themes in The Matrix Resurrections.

In keeping with that idea, I was thankful that they did not touch up Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss’ appearances in Resurrections. These are two beautiful people, obviously, but they clearly look twenty years older than their original introduction. In fact, the filmmakers go out of their way to make Neo unkempt and unfashionable compared to his previous incarnation. People age, and, as Resurrections conveys, with age and experience can come wisdom and self-realization.

Part of the reason I loved The Matrix so much was because it introduced some very big, even mind-blowing, ideas. Resurrections never achieves that level of ingenuity, but it does indeed call out our society over the last few years. There are several lines about falling victim to fiction and believing big lies that did not go unnoticed. I suppose, though, that compared to other recent movies, a blockbuster sci-fi film driven by love is pretty rebellious.

Finally, The Matrix Resurrections seemed a little more willing to laugh at itself this time around. There were several metafiction gags that brought forth a chuckle.

On the flipside of that, though, those gags came dangerously close to becoming cringeworthy. Furthermore, some of the characters, such as Morpheus, were making fun of themselves while never clearly establishing why. I’m still not exactly sure who “Morpheus” was in this film, by the way–a facsimile or the original? A hybrid program? I considered this a shame because the original Morpheus was such a cool “wizard/mentor” archetype.

Which brings me to another point: I was confused for quite a bit of this movie. I didn’t totally understand the primary antagonist’s motivations, I didn’t fully grasp former villains’ new roles, nor did I comprehend Neo’s “the matrix” within “The Matrix.” I think he called it a “modal.” Why did he make it? What purpose did it serve?

I also thought the film kept one foot a little too much in the past. There were many, many literal flashbacks to the other films, and many of the scenes themselves mirrored scenes from the predecessors as well. A touch would have been fine, everybody loves nostalgia, but it got a little heavy-handed.

On that note, The Matrix Resurrections didn’t appear to break any new ground regarding visuals, which I found very disappointing. The Matrix melted my mind back in ’99. I saw things in that movie I’d never seen on screen before. Resurrections had some cool moments (mostly revealed in the trailers), but nothing that made my jaw drop. With today’s technology and the filmmaker’s trailblazing spirit, I honestly expected revolutionary special effects. We didn’t get them.

In the end, though, Neo and Trinity proved more than enough. They were the heart and soul of The Matrix (along with Morpheus, who sadly got sidelined in this film), and seeing them on screen again together more than made up for any of the film’s shortcomings. They’re older and grayer, to be sure (aren’t we all?), but they are also more fully rounded and emotionally realized.

Full disclosure–I didn’t like The Matrix when I first saw it. I didn’t get it. However, after dozens of re-watches over the years, I fell in love with it more and more. It’s entirely possible I didn’t completely understand The Matrix Resurrections on my first viewing. I absolutely plan on watching it again and I’m sure I’ll pick up on some new things and better comprehend the plot. But the good news is that I did indeed like it. Do I want more from The Matrix universe? On the one hand, I’d watch anything with Carrie-Anne Moss and Keanu Reeves acting together. On the other hand, I don’t see much potential for this story to continue in fresh, innovative ways. The Matrix Resurrections seemed to be a nice send-off for the characters rather than a launch pad to new horizons.

The Green Knight – A Movie Review

For several months now, I’ve heard very good things about The Green Knight. Unfortunately, it got lost in the mix during the pandemic and then the game began of just how much I was willing to pay to stream it since the theaters were no longer an option. The answer is that I wasn’t willing to pay very much at all. Nothing, in fact. That’s not a slight against the movie. I’m just a little cheap.

Anyway, at long last, The Green Knight became available for free on DVD at my local library. I put it on hold the day it was due to arrive.

Finally, I saw The Green Knight.

The verdict: pretty good, but a little weird.

I don’t mind weird; not at all. But this one … it’s a little weird.

For those unfamiliar, The Green Knight is about Gawain, nephew to King Arthur, a young man who must face The Green Knight again one year after being allowed to strike the knight down. The movie follows Gawain as he undertakes his journey in search of The Green Knight as things get pretty weird. Gawain finds The Green Knight, and then things get even weirder. I won’t lie, the ending confused the heck out of me.

But, even with that begin said, I actually enjoyed The Green Knight. It’s eerie, grotesquely beautiful, well filmed, interesting, and–as already established–weird. Dev Patel’s Gawain is vulnerable, understated, and charismatic. The Green Knight himself is mysterious, creepy, and noble. You’ll notice some stars currently breaking out such as Erin Kellyman and Barry Keoghan, as well as some established names like Joel Edgerton and Alicia Vikander, all of whom play fascinating characters in their own right. In fact, until after doing a little research, I didn’t even realize that Vikander played TWO characters in the movie!

I’m not sure The Green Knight is for everyone. Even though we’re led to believe we’re looking at King Arthur, Queen Guinevere, Morgan le Fay, and Merlin, they are never called as such. The film is subversive in that the knights are not particularly chivalrous and the land is not especially pleasant to inhabit. There are some fantasy elements, but, like Gawain himself, they are subtle and understated.

In the end, The Green Knight is very open to interpretation. Those looking for a neat, tidy ending may be disappointed. Those in search of a unique movie that doesn’t seem to play by the rules might be quite entertained. I fall somewhere in the middle.

The Neon Demon – A Movie Review

I have to admit that I’ve noticed this film on Amazon Prime Video for several years and it always piqued my curiosity. I recently read an article touting it as a hidden gem among the Amazon library, and so I finally decided to give it a watch.

The Neon Demon stars Elle Fanning as a sixteen-year-old model who comes to LA and instantly gets noticed. Her simple, natural beauty wins over photographers and fashion icons alike. Jenna Malone plays Ruby, a make-up artist who says she wants to watch out for Fanning’s character, Jesse, but seems to also sometimes put Jesse in precarious positions. Keanu Reeves plays a man who runs the cheap motel Jesse stays in, and his intent is obviously nefarious from the beginning. Abbey Lee and Bella Heathcote play perfect models who are apparently friends with Ruby and insanely jealous of Jesse.

As the movie progresses, Jesse says and does things that make it appear as though she may be far more than she seems. At times the movie leads the audience to believe she undergoes entire personality shifts and, in fact, may be the very demon the title suggests. She regularly claims to be dangerous despite her mousy, wide-eyed disposition.

This goes on for the first three-quarters of the film. It is slow, visually striking, stiffly acted by otherwise talented actors, and more than a bit disjointed. And then the last quarter of the movie unfolds. The last act is gory, disturbing, twisted, and surprising. I appreciate that this sudden turn of events was indeed hinted at throughout the film, but I found Jesse’s ultimate fate disappointing because it struck me as inconsistent with the rest of the film in regards to her character.

I’m afraid I cannot recommend The Neon Demon to the casual viewer. It’s not particularly enjoyable, entertaining, or thrilling. I could see film students or movie experts appreciating some of the stylistic choices made by the film, however.

The Tomorrow War – A Movie Review

I honestly had no idea what to expect from The Tomorrow War. Chris Pratt is always a little hit or miss with me. I love Sam Richardson, but I’ve only seen him in funny movies. I also love J.K. Simmons. I only knew Betty Gilpin from GLOW, a dramedy. I’d never heard of Yvonne Strahovski. The director, Chris McKay, sounded familiar, but I couldn’t quite place his name.

Anyway, I figured what the heck. The trailer showed time travel and monsters, so that’s really all it took for me to give it a shot. (In addition to Sam Richardson, of course.)

Though The Tomorrow War is FAR from perfect, I still very much enjoyed it.

The premise is that soldiers from the future come to the present in order to recruit ordinary citizens to fight aliens back in the future. They’ve literally run out of people, so now they are drafting those from our era in order to keep fighting. Chris Pratt, a science teacher and former combat soldier, is one such draftee. He must leave behind his little daughter and loving wife in order to save the future, and none of them believe they’ll ever see each other again.

Once Pratt’s character arrives in the future, things get both visually spectacular and a little hard to accept. On the one hand, the special effects look amazing with horrifyingly beautiful aliens. On the other, I simply could not believe that a platoon of regular men and women from 2021 would be able to fire an automatic weapon, much less operate as a cohesive unit. After all, they had virtually no training and still wore their street clothes.

However, after that initial hiccup, the movie took some very interesting twists and turns. Yes, The Tomorrow War is part comedy, part sci-fi action film, part drama, part horror movie, part war flick, part family saga, and part social commentary, but it’s ALL entertaining. Really, in the end, isn’t that what you want?

By the way–Chris McKay? He directed The Lego Movie and The Lego Batman Movie. Things are making more sense now, right?

Truthfully, The Tomorrow War triggered far more emotions that I anticipated. I don’t care for Chris Pratt as a sex symbol, but I really liked him as a dad just trying to do the right thing. I also found the dynamic between J.K. Simmons and Chris Pratt quite interesting. And, as you know, Sam Richardson owned every scene that featured him. Unfortunately, Betty Gilpin found herself underutilized. If you want to see her full range, check out GLOW.

Furthermore, I mentioned that I didn’t know Yvonne Strahovski. She ends up doing a LOT of emotional work in this film, and she pulled it off well. I still don’t know where she came from, but I think she’s got a solid future in acting ahead of her. (UPDATE: I’ve since realized that she is Serena Joy Waterford from The Handmaid’s Tale. No wonder she’s so good! Obviously, she’s already had a very successful career and will continue to do so.)

The Tomorrow War is literally all over the place. Yet, I have to say that it delivered a fairly tightknit story that, as far as these kinds of stories go, mostly made sense. Obviously, when time travel is involved, nothing makes sense, but you know what I mean.

One more thing–The Tomorrow War looks great. The effects are amazing, the aliens appear grounded in reality, and the cinematography is visually striking. Sometimes these heavy effects movies don’t quite look right on the small screen, but not so with The Tomorrow War. Amazon got it just right for our living rooms.

If you like action movies, Chris Pratt, time travel stories, J.K. Simmons, special effects, or monster movies, I think you’ll get a kick out of The Tomorrow War. If nothing else, just watch it for Sam Richardson.

Army Of the Dead – A Movie Review

As far as zombie movies set in Las Vegas go, Army Of the Dead was more than entertaining.

I can’t claim this film was cinematic genius. I can’t argue it shifted the paradigm regarding zombies. I can’t even say it was the best zombie movie out there.

However, I can truthfully proclaim that, if you’re looking to sit around with a few friends and enjoy a popcorn action flick, Army Of the Dead won’t disappoint.

Yes, some of it didn’t make any sense. It wasn’t completely consistent in terms of tone. Much of it felt like it was setting up prequels or sequels. But, hey, the special effects were fantastic, the action satisfied, and seeing Las Vegas as a quarantined apocalyptic ruin filled with ravenous, undead cannibals proved a feast for the eyes.

And there’s no denying the stars had real charisma. Dave Bautista, believe it or not, really is a pretty decent actor, and a master thespian by action movie standards. There’s a reason big-time directors are casting him in their movies. Omari Hardwick, Matthias Schweighöfer, Ella Purnell, Raúl Castillo, and Ana de la Reguera all had a ton of charm. Of course, Tig Notaro delighted even if she did typically look like she was digitally inserted into the movie–because she was. In the end, this cast was simply a blast to watch.

You can perhaps argue that the director, Zack Snyder, was trying to comment on the greed of modern-day America. Maybe he was trying to say something about the inhumane treatment of detainees. He could even have been ripping on our politicians. But I don’t think any of that was the case. I think Zack Snyder just wanted to make a frenetic zombie movie that could entertain for two and a half hours, and, on that note, he most definitely succeeded.

Tenet – A Movie Review

I wish I could say to you that Tenet is an intellectual masterpiece, that Christopher Nolan has broken with cinematic convention to such a degree that he has essentially reinvented the medium, and that the story is so complex it works as the equivalent of a Russian doll.

I wish I could say all of that, but I can’t.

Tenet is a confusing mess of a plot with wooden dialogue and an obvious atmosphere of overinflated self-importance. From the minute it started to the minute it ended, I didn’t quite know what was going on, nor did I particularly care.

You could argue that I simply didn’t get it. Maybe I’m not smart enough to decipher the enigma of Christopher Nolan’s work. I don’t think that’s the case, though. I don’t believe Tenet was conceived or written particularly well.

However, there were some highpoints. John David Washington is very charismatic. Though he seemed stiff and restrained throughout the film and had truly awful dialogue, he still emitted an undeniable quality of stardom. Robert Pattinson, believe it or not, is absolutely a good actor and fun to watch. Elizabeth Debicki also had terrible dialogue to work with and little to do in the film, but the six foot, three inch actress also displayed charisma.

In truth, even if Nolan’s plots don’t always click for me, the direction and cinematic quality typically win me over. This was not the case with Tenet. It didn’t look especially beautiful, the shots were not awe-inspiring, and even the angles struck me as rather mundane.

There’s no denying that Christopher Nolan normally makes good movies worthy of praise, but, in my opinion, he missed the mark with Tenet.

Godzilla vs. Kong – A Movie Review

It’s all in the title, right?

Let’s start with the positives–the special effects in Godzilla vs. Kong are spectacular. You see every hair on Kong’s body, every scale on Godzilla’s face. It really is very impressive.

Also, when the two behemoths clash, it is epic. The falling buildings, the crashing waves, the displaced earth–they’ve got the physics of their brawling down pretty well.

Furthermore, the actors–respectable names like Alexander Skarsgård, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, and three minutes of Kyle Chandler–they’re trying. They’re trying. So. Hard.

And the director, Adam Wingard, he’s doing his best. He really is. The movie looks great. The actors are obviously giving it their all. I think he’s got everyone motivated, he’s got the film appearing exquisite, and he’s got the technical people overachieving.

But, despite all of those positives, the movie is just dumb.

There’s no other way to put it.

I wish they would stop trying to insert human stories into monster fight movies. I wish they would stop trying to humanize monsters. I wish they would stop trying to force motivation upon the monsters.

Here’s my monster fight movie–monster’s fight for 75 to 90 minutes. Multimedia news reports are spliced in to provide context. Done. Everyone is happy.

Godzilla vs. Kong has a lot going for it. It’s a fun, entertaining spectacle with sublime special effects (even on the “small” screen through HBO Max). But there’s a lot about this movie that just plain doesn’t make any sense at all, no matter how suspended the disbelief.